12 December 2007

The Real Reason for the Season

The Atonement of Jesus Christ, Part 1

The Atonement of Christ is nothing less than the answer to the great and terrible question that life inevitably poses: “Is this all there is?” If you are a saint, you know that this is a wicked world; if you are the most cynical and worldly unbeliever, you still know by experience that it is a vicious one. It seems that everything we want here is either destructive or trivial.

Peter was not philosophizing or theologizing, but stating the facts of life when he said: “Go about [anastraphete, conduct yourselves] in fear during your transient stay, knowing that perishables like silver and gold cannot free you from the futile way of life of your fathers.” (Author’s translation; see 1 Pet. 1:17–18.) Thus he concludes his comment:

“For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flowers thereof falleth away:

“But the word of the Lord endureth for ever.” (1 Pet. 1:24–25.)

Between these two statements of the problem, Peter gives us another choice; there is an order of things which goes back “before the foundation of the world” and is now emerging again to our advantage—“manifest in these last times for you.” (1 Pet. 1:20.) It is the carrying out of the Atonement, for which the law of Moses was a preparation.
The Good News

Jacob, in the Book of Mormon, goes right to the point. The problem is “that our flesh must waste away and die,” for “death hath passed upon all men” (2 Ne. 9:4, 6); and without the resurrection, death becomes final: “And if so, this flesh must have laid down to rot and to crumble to its mother earth, to rise no more” (2 Ne. 9:7).

And what is to stop it? Jacob grasps the situation. “There must needs be a power,” he says, “a power of resurrection,” and such a power has indeed been provided, “to fulfil the merciful plan of the great Creator.” (2 Ne. 9:6; italics added.)

What a comfort to know that things are under control after all. The Fall has put us into a state of corruption in which it would be disastrous to remain if man should “put forth his hand and partake also of the tree of life, and eat and live forever [in his sins].” (Moses 4:28.) Nobody wants to live forever in a sewer, yet according to Shakespeare, even that is preferable to the alternative: “The weariest and most loathed worldly life that age, ache, penury, and imprisonment can lay on nature, is a paradise to what we fear of death.” 1

But it doesn’t have to be that way. That is just the point. The Atonement makes available the only kind of lasting life worth having. The great Christian tract on the Atonement, Paul’s epistle to the Hebrews, begins with an exhilarating prospect: “God … hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds;

“Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high.” (Heb. 1:1–3.)
Atonement and Reconciliation

People are usually surprised to learn that atonement, an accepted theological term, comes from neither a Greek nor a Latin word, but is good old English and really does mean, when we write it out, “at-one-ment,” denoting both a state of being “at one” with another and the process by which that end is achieved.

The word atonement appears only once in the New Testament (Rom. 5:11 in the King James Version), and in the Revised Standard Version it does not appear at all, the translators preferring the more familiar word reconciliation. (See also footnote to Rom. 5:11 in the LDS edition of the King James Version.) Reconciliation is a very good word for atonement there, since it means literally to be seated again with someone (re-con-silio)—so that atonement is to be reunited with God, just as Paul said: “[The Lord] sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on High.”

The Greek word translated as “reconciliation” is katallagein. It is a business term, which the lexicon tells us means “exchange, esp. of money; … change from enmity to friendship, reconciliation; … reconciliation of sinners with God.” 2 It is the return to the status ante quo, whether as a making of peace or a settlement of debt.

The monetary metaphor is by far the most common, being the simplest and easiest to understand. Hence, frequently the word redemption literally means “to buy back”—that is, to reacquire something you owned previously. Thus, Moses said: “But because the Lord loved you, and because he would keep the oath which he had sworn unto your fathers, hath the Lord brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you out of the house of bondmen, from the hand of Pharaoh.” (Deut. 7:8.)

By redemption, someone has paid a price to get you off, restoring you to a former, happier condition. But the frequent use of the commercial analogy is not out of reverence for trade and commerce—just the opposite, in fact. The redeemed are bought to clear them of all worldly obligation by paying off the world in its own currency, after which it has no further claim on the redeemed.

The Greek equivalent is lutrosis, a ransoming. Paul tells the Saints to prepare for the salvation that has been made available by disengaging from this world—“denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world”—so that God “might redeem [lutrosetai] us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people.” (Titus 2:12, 14.)

Salvation likewise means “rescue” (soteria, also rendered “deliverance”). Another expression is “for a price,” the word being time, “that which is paid in token or worth of value.” He paid for us what he thought we were worth so he could join us with him.

In the spirit of Article of Faith 8 (“We believe the Bible … as far as it is translated correctly”), [A of F 1:8] a verse in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians has always cried out for re-examination. The proposition actually reads like a business agreement, not binding but releasing: “In whom we have bail [apolutrosin—our release pending the judgment] through his blood, the pardoning [aphesin, setting aside] of misdemeanors [paraptomaton, blunder, trespass] on consideration of the money [ploutos] of his generosity [charitos], which on our behalf has exceeded in all wisdom and understanding [phronesei].” (Author’s translation from the Greek; see Eph. 1:7–8.)

Meanwhile, Paul counsels the Saints, “Grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption [bought free, apolutroseos],” and be united in love, “forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” (Eph. 4:30, 32; italics added.)

So when the scriptures speak of atonement, it is always as re-conciliation, re-demption, re-surrection, re-lease, salvation, and so on. All refer to a return to a former state.
Semitic Origins

This theme is even more vividly and concretely expressed in the Hebrew terminology.

In Semitic languages, where one root can have many meanings, the first rule is always to look for the basic or literal meaning of the word, which in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic usually takes us back to early days and simple homely affairs of life in the desert or the countryside. One simple physical act often triggers a long line of derivatives—meanings which are perfectly reasonable if one takes the most obvious steps from one to the next, but which can end up miles from the starting-place.

The basic word for atonement is kafar, which has the same basic meaning in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic—that being “to bend, arch over, cover; 2) [to pass over with one’s palm &c., to wipe out, rub] … to deny, … to forgive, … to be expiated, … renounce.” 3

The Arabic kafara puts the emphasis on a tight squeeze, such as tucking in the skirts, drawing a thing close to oneself. Closely related are Aramaic 4 and Arabic kafata, 5 meaning a close embrace, which are certainly related to the Egyptian hpt, 6 the common ritual embrace written with the ideogram of embracing arms. Hpt may be cognate with the Latin capto 7 and the Persian kaftan, 8 a monk’s robe and hood completely embracing the body.

Most interesting is the Arabic kafata, 9 as it is the key to a dramatic situation. It was the custom for one fleeing for his life in the desert to seek protection in the tent of a great sheik, crying out, “Ana dakhiluka,” meaning “I am thy suppliant,” whereupon the host would place the hem of his robe over the guest’s shoulder and declare him under his protection. In one instance in the Book of Mormon we see Nephi fleeing from an evil enemy that is pursuing him. In great danger, he prays the Lord to give him an open road in the low way, to block his pursuers, and to make them stumble. He comes to the Lord as a suppliant: “O Lord, wilt thou encircle me around in the robe of thy righteousness! O Lord, wilt thou make a way for mine escape before mine enemies!” (2 Ne. 4:33.) In reply, according to the ancient custom, the Master would then place the hem of his robe protectively over the kneeling man’s shoulder (kafata). This puts him under the Lord’s protection from all enemies. They embrace in a close hug, as Arab chiefs still do; the Lord makes a place for him (see Alma 5:24) and invites him to sit down beside him—they are at-one.

This is the imagery of the Atonement—the embrace: “The Lord hath redeemed my soul from hell; I have beheld his glory, and I am encircled about eternally in the arms of his love.” (2 Ne. 1:15.)

“Behold, he sendeth an invitation unto all men, for the arms of mercy are extended towards them, and he saith: Repent, and I will receive you.” (Alma 5:33.)

This is the hpt—the ritual embrace that consummates the final escape from death in the Egyptian funerary texts and reliefs, where the son Horus is received into the arms of his father Osiris.
The Day of Atonement

In Israel, when the sacrifices and sin offerings were completed on the Day of Atonement, the high priest went to the door of the kapporet to receive assurance from the Lord that He had accepted the offerings and repentance of the people and forgiven them their sins: “At the door of the tabernacle of the congregation before the Lord: where I will meet you, to speak there unto thee.” (Ex. 29:42.) The kapporet is usually assumed to be the lid of the ark of the covenant, yet it fits much better with the front, since one stands before it. 10 The Septuagint, the old Greek text of the Bible, makes the verse clearer: I will meet you at the “door of the tent of the testimony in the presence of the Lord, on which occasion I shall make myself known to you that I might converse with you.”

The setting is clarified in the Gospel of Luke when Zacharias, a direct descendant of Aaron (as was also his wife), entered behind the veil into the Holy of Holies (naon tou kuriou, the skene or tent of the Old Testament) while people waited on the outside. (See Luke 1:9–10.) He did not meet the Lord, but rather his personal representative, a messenger of the Lord standing beside the altar, who identified himself as “Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings.” (See Luke 1:11, 19.)

The news was about a great at-one-ment that was to take place in which the children would “turn to the Lord their God” while the “hearts of the fathers” would be turned again [epistrepsai] “to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:16–17.) It is all a preparation for a great bringing together again through the ordinance of baptism after they had been separated by the Fall: “I will sanctify the tabernacle of the congregation, and … Aaron and his sons, … and I will dwell among the children of Israel, and be their God.” (Ex. 29:44–45.) They will all be one happy family forever.

As Jesus himself prayed on the eve of his crucifixion: “Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.” (John 17:24.) They are going back to that premortal glory. “And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:26.)

“Holy Father, keep [tereo] through thine own name those whom thou hast given me,” reads John 17:11 in the King James Version; but in the Greek text, there is no direct object “whom,” and the word tereo can mean to “test by observation or trial.” 11 Instead, we have an instrumental dative, so in the spirit of Article of Faith 8, this verse could read, “Holy Father, [test them on] thine own name [with which] thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are one.” [A of F 1:8] This takes us back to the kapporet, for only the high priest knew the name which he whispered for admission through the temple veil on the Day of Atonement.

It is understandable that the kapporet should be called the mercy seat, for it was there, in the most guarded and sacred part of the sanctuary, that Israel was reconciled at-one with God on the Day of Atonement: “And after the second veil, the tabernacle [succoth, booth, tent] which is called the Holiest of all … [contained] the cherubims of glory shadowing the mercyseat; of which we cannot now speak particularly.” Thus said Paul to the Hebrews. (Heb. 9:3, 5.)

Commenting on the ancient synagogue at Beth Alpha in Palestine, Erwin R. Goodenough notes, “The scene as designed shows the curtains drawn back at either side to disclose the objects behind them.” The custom has persisted: “In a synagogue the Torah shrine is still properly concealed by a curtain, but these curtains in the mosaic are not especially connected with the shrine: they serve when drawn to open up a whole stage, a whole world. … So the curtains have taken the place of the old carved screen which seemed to us to separate the world of man from heaven. … Only the few were allowed to penetrate to the adyton behind. … The sense of distinction between the earthly and heavenly [was] still kept.” Even more important than the idea that the veil introduces us into another realm is that “the curtains have also the value of suggesting the curtain in the Temple which separated the sanctuary from the world of ordinary life.” 12

And where does the Atonement motif come in? In a stock presentation found in early Jewish synagogues as well as on very early Christian murals, “the hand of God is represented, but could not be called that explicitly, and instead of the heavenly utterance, the bath kol [echo, distant voice, whisper], is given.” 13 From the hand “radiate beams of light.” 14 “To show the hand and light thus emerging from central darkness,” writes Goodenough, “is as near as one could come in conservative Judaism to depicting God himself.” 15 In early Christian representations, the hand of God reaching out of heaven is grasped by the human spirit who is being caught up into the presence of the Lord. 16
To “Have Place” with God

This yearly rite of atonement included the teshuvah, a “return to God, repentance.” 17 The prophets repeatedly invite Israel to return to God, who is waiting with open arms to receive them if only they will repent. They not only return and are welcomed in, but they also sit down. This is the yeshivah, “1) sitting, rest, 2) settlement, dwelling, … 3) … session, council, … court.” 18 The meanings all combine in the Yeshivah shel maclah or Metivta de-Rakica (“The Academy on High” or “Academy of the Sky,” respectively): Heaven (where the angels and the souls of the righteous are believed to dwell), a place of divine justice to which all will be summoned. 19 The root yashav has the basic meaning of sitting or settling down to live in a place, yashuv “seated, … [a] sitting.” 20 You have a place because you have returned home.

All this we find in the Book of Mormon. Along with the embrace already mentioned, we find the formula “have place” used in exactly the same sense. (Alma 5:25; cf. Mosiah 26:23–24, “a place at my right hand”; Enos 1:27, “there is a place prepared for you in the mansions of my Father.”) This is also the metaphor that Alma uses: “Do ye suppose that such an one can have a place to sit down in the kingdom of God, with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob, and also all the holy prophets, whose garments are cleansed and are spotless, pure and white … through the blood of Christ, who will come to redeem his people from their sins?” (Alma 5:24, 27.)

Let us recall that it was on the Day of Atonement that the priest entered the tent and that the people’s garments were all made white by the atoning sacrifice of the Lamb. The Book of Mormon is, of course, in the milieu of the old Hebrew rites before the destruction of Solomon’s temple, for after that the ark and the covering (kapporet) no longer existed there, but the Holy of Holies was still called the bait ha-kapporet. The loss of the old ceremonies occurred shortly after Lehi left Jerusalem. “As long as the Temple stood,” we read in the Talmud, “the altar atoned for Israel, but now a man’s table [i.e., each man’s temple] atones for him.” 21

Thus, the ordinances of atonement were, after Lehi’s day, supplanted by allegory. Let us recall that Lehi and his people, who left Jerusalem in the very last days of Solomon’s temple, were zealous in erecting altars of sacrifice and building temples of their own. It has often been claimed that the Book of Mormon cannot contain the “fulness of the gospel,” since it does not mention the temple ordinances. As a matter of fact, they are alluded to everywhere in the book if we know where to look for them, and the dozen or so discourses on the Atonement in the Book of Mormon are replete with temple imagery.

From all the Semitic variations of kafar (atonement), for example, we concluded that the literal meaning of the term is a close and intimate embrace, which took place at the kapporet or the front cover or flap of the tabernacle or tent. The Book of Mormon instances are quite clear:

“Behold, he sendeth an invitation unto all men, for the arms of mercy are extended towards them, and he saith: Repent, and I will receive you.” (Alma 5:33.)

“Behold, the Lord hath redeemed my soul from hell; I have beheld his glory, and I am encircled about eternally in the arms of his love.” (2 Ne. 1:15.)

To be redeemed is to be atoned. From this it should be clear what kind of oneness is meant by the Atonement—it is being received by the Lord in a close embrace of the returning prodigal son, expressing not only forgiveness but oneness of heart and mind that amounts to identity, like a literal family identity.


1. Measure for Measure, act III, sc. 1, lines 129—32.

2. Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, rev. Henry Stuart Jones and Roderick McKenzie (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968), p. 899.

3. Marcus Jastrow, A Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli and Yerushalmi, and the Midrashic Literature, 2 vols. (New York: Pardes, 1950), 1:661–62.

4. Regarding the Aramaic kafat, see William Gesenius, Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, trans. Edward Robinson (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974), p. 1097.

5. Regarding the Arabic kafata, see Edward Stanley Lane-Poole, Arabic-English Lexicon, 2 vols. (London: Williams and Norgate, 1885), 1(7):2618–23.

6. Regarding hpt, see Adolf Erman and Hermann Grapow, Worterbuch der Aegyptischen Sprache, 7 vols. (Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1929), 3:71.

7. Regarding capto, see, P. G. W. Glare, ed., Oxford Latin Dictionary (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982), p. 273.

8. Regarding the Persian kaftan (caftan), see Philip B. Gove, ed., Webster’s Third New International Dictionary (Springfield, Mass.: Merriam, 1971), p. 313: “caftan: An ankle-length coatlike garment, usu. of cotton or silk, often striped, with very long sleeves and a sash [note that the garment is drawn up around the body by the sash] fastening, common throughout the Levant.” Cf. David B. Guralnik, Webster’s New World Dictionary (New York: Collins and World, 1953), p. 198: “caftan [Turk. qaftan] a long-sleeved robe with a girdle, worn in eastern Mediterranean countries”; Jess Stein, ed., Random House Dictionary, unabridged (New York: Random House, 1983), p. 208, “caftan. n. a long garment having long sleeves and tied at the waist by a girdle, worn under a coat in the Near East. Also, kaftan [
9. Regarding the Arabic kafata, see Edward Stanley Lane-Poole, Arabic-English Lexicon, 1(7):2618–19.

10. Regarding kapporet, see Francis Brown, The New Brown–Driver–Briggs–Gesenius Hebrew and English Lexicon (Lafayette, Ind.: Associated Publishers and Authors, 1978), p. 498: “It was a slab of gold 2 1/2 cubits by 1 1/2 cubits placed on top of the ark of testimony. On it, and a part of it, were two golden cherubim facing each other, whose outstretched wings came together above and constituted the throne of Yahweh.” Cf. Miles Martindale, Dictionary of the Holy Bible, rev. and corr. Joseph Benson (New York: Bangs and Mason, 1823), p. 116: “The Hebrew word, rendered atonement, signifies covering; a proper atonement covering sin and the sinner from the avenging justice of God.” Paul J. Achtemeier, ed., Harper’s Bible Dictionary (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985), p. 64: “Interest is focused on the gold ’mercy seat’ or cover on top of it. This is now God’s throne, where he appears in a cloud [Lev. 16:2] to communicate his will [Ex. 25:17–22]. As the Hebrew term kapporet suggests, this was also the place where atonement was made by the sprinkling of blood on the Day of Atonement [Lev. 16:14–16].” This notes the contradiction between the idea of the lid or the roof. The original entrance to the most holy place was definitely a veil. (See Ex. 26:31–33.) The earliest representations of synagogues show both the door to the temple and to the Holy of Holies behind a heavy veil which has been partly drawn aside. Georgette Corcos, ed., The Glory of the Old Testament (Jerusalem: Jerusalem Publishing House, 1984), p. 45 (see caption of photo 64): “Such curtains conceal the doors of the ark in which the Scrolls of the Law are kept in the synagogue (‘that you mayest bring in thither within the vail of the ark of testimony’).” Illustrations on pages 45 (photo 64), 51 (photo 71).

11. Liddell and Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, p. 1789.

12. Erwin R. Goodenough, Jewish Symbols in the Greco-Roman Period, 13 vols. (New York: Pantheon, 1953–68), 1:251.

13. Ibid., p. 246.

14. Ibid.

15. Ibid., p. 248.

16. Hugh W. Nibley, The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri: An Egyptian Endowment (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1975), pp. 244–46, 253; cf. Henri Leclercq, “Ascension (dans l’art),” in Fernand Cabrol, Dictionnaire d’archeologie chretienne et de liturgie, 15 vols. (Paris: Letouzey, 1907), 1:2929 (Figure 988).

17. Jastrow, A Dictionary of the Targumim, 2:1703.

18. Ibid., 1:600.

19. See Harry Freedman, “Academy on High,” in Encyclopedia Judaica, 16 vols. (New York: Macmillan, 1971), 2:208–9.

20. Jastrow, A Dictionary of Targumim, 1:600, 603.

21. Berkaoth 55a in Seder Zera’im, The Babylonian Talmud, trans. Maurice Simon, 10 vols. (London: Soncino Press, 1948), part 5:334.

The Atonement of Jesus Christ, Part 2

Mention of an Egyptian endowment raises the question of whether the Hebrew rites are original. In the late nineteenth century and early twentieth centuries, wide-ranging comparative studies in philosophy and religion made it look as if the Hebrew ceremonies of atonement were just one series of rites among many found throughout the ancient world by which societies—primitive or civilized—practiced purification and expiation, individual and collective, to enter the new year with a clean slate, their collective and individual sins having been transferred to and carried by a pharmakon—a scapegoat, a rex saturnalicus, a Lord of Misrule, a Year-King, and so on. 1 Some of these are attested in pre-Hebraic times, and it was assumed that the Mosaic rites were not original but derivative.

It must be admitted that other societies seem to share the tradition. The most notable is the grasp of the situation by the Greek dramatists, whose plays in fact were religious presentations, the main theme of the tragedies being the purging of guilt. No one ever stated the problem of man’s condition more clearly than the great Greek dramatists. They show us what life is without the Atonement, for their view of life, like that of all the ancients, is a profoundly tragic one.

The standard tragedy begins with something gone very wrong. After all, that is the way the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants also begin—in the one case, that “great city Jerusalem [is about to] be destroyed” (1 Ne. 1:4); in the other, “peace [is about to] be taken from the earth, and the devil shall have power over his own dominion” (D&C 1:35). Things are not as they should be in the world; nothing short of immediate destruction is in the offing. Someone must be responsible. Why? Because things don’t just happen; therefore, appeal must be made to the oracle. Long before Aeschylus’s The Suppliant Maidens (the earliest Greek tragedy), in which Danaus seeks favor at the altars of the Pelasgian gods as an enemy approaches, we find the same dramatic scene as Moses stands before the people and cries out, “Ye have sinned a great sin: and now I will go up unto the Lord; peradventure I shall make an atonement for your sin.” (Ex. 32:30.) For the people had turned to the golden calf and were smitten with the plague.

But who is guilty? Not just one person, certainly; society has its part to play in making us what we are and do. Should all the society be punished, then? How do we apportion the blame when all share in it? We cannot. The law of Moses insists with great strictness that every individual man, woman, and child above age twenty, rich and poor, shall pay “ransom for his soul” of exactly the same amount—one-half shekel, no more, no less. (See Ex. 30:11–16.) Just as sweeping is the provision that God “commandeth all men, everywhere, to repent” (3 Ne. 11:32) and to keep repenting as long as our days are extended for that express purpose. We are all in it together.

To satisfy both offended justice and offended Deity, something must be done. Appeasement, payment, settlement—call it what you will—it must restore the old unity of the heavenly and the human order; it must bring about at-one-ment of the two. And what payment or sacrifice is sufficient to do that? The usual practice throughout the ancient world was to sacrifice the king, who after all took credit for victory and prosperity and was answerable when they failed. 2

This Egyptian theme is introduced in the first chapter of the book of Abraham, with Abraham about to be sacrificed “after the manner of the Egyptians.” (Abr. 1:11–12.) But the Egyptians had no word for sin; though the Egyptian language was rich in words for folly, mischief, and misfortune, one was considered guilty only if caught. 3 Even the Hebrew word khãtã properly means “to fail or miss, not to hit the mark,” exactly like the Greek hamartanein (translated as “sinning” in Gen. 20:6). The Egyptian idea of atonement appears in the regulation that if Pharaoh has knowingly or unknowingly taken life by the shedding of blood he must atone for it (entsühnen) by making a sacrifice, “by which sacrifice he is purified of the Serpent which has defiled him before the Gods.” 4 That is a long way from the Hebrew atonement.

As to the resemblances that have beguiled the scholars, one hundred years ago President Joseph F. Smith gave the most rational and still the most acceptable explanation for them. To quote him:

“Undoubtedly the knowledge of this law and of other rites and ceremonies was carried by the posterity of Adam into all lands, and continued with them, more or less pure, to the flood, and through Noah, who was a ‘preacher of righteousness,’ to those who succeeded him, spreading out into all nations and countries. … What wonder, then, that we should find relics of Christianity, so to speak, among the heathens and nations who know not Christ, and whose histories date back beyond the days of Moses, and even beyond the flood, independent of and apart from the records of the Bible.”

The scholars of his time, he notes, took the position that “ ‘Christianity’ sprang from the heathen, it being found that they have many rites similar to those recorded in the Bible, &c.” This jumping to conclusions was premature, to say the least, “for if the heathen have doctrines and ceremonies resembling … those … in the Scriptures, it only proves … that these are the traditions of the fathers handed down, … and that they will cleave to the children to the latest generation, though they may wander into darkness and perversion, until but a slight resemblance to their origin, which was divine, can be seen.”

Which came first—the pagan or the Hebrew version? As Joseph F. Smith observes, “The Bible account, being the most rational and indeed [the] only historical one, … we cannot but come to the conclusion that this is not the work of chance.” 5
The Competitors

The biblical account is not a work of chance, to be sure, but were there others? Is the Bible account indeed the only rational, historical one? These are questions that must be asked, and the vast amount of work on the subject that has almost all been done since Joseph F. Smith made his remarks more than one hundred years ago calls for a word of comment.

In the nineteenth century a string of scholars with monosyllabic names—Jones, Bopp, Rask, Grimm, Pott, Diez, Zeuss—discovered unexpected relationships between all sorts of languages. In the early twentieth century their studies were followed up by grand, sweeping surveys of comparative literature, revealing a wealth of religious parallels that set the experts to their favorite game of arguing about where which rite or expression began, and who borrowed what when from whom.

It was more than a matter of general resemblances between doctrines and cults; the Hellenistic mystery religions, the Gnostics, the Mandaeans, the early Christians, the Cabalists—all seemed to be speaking the same language. Looking back in time, the scholars saw the strong influence of Plato almost everywhere, but where did he get his ideas? At first, the consensus was for Egypt, but in the 1920s there was a strong swing toward Iran’s Zarathustra. The fad wore off, but still the argument goes on.

What were the teachings in question? The basic ideas of all of them are the yearning for return to God and eternal life, which the learned scholar Eduard Meyer maintained came from Moses to Philo. 6 With this went the conviction expressed by Plato that this world is a place of evil from which we are liberated to return to God, this world being in a state of decline toward inevitable catastrophe and ultimate restoration by God. 7 The escape of the individual to eternal bliss is anticipated by such things as baptism, sacred meals, prophecy, and visions or dreams of ascension to the seventh heaven. Eschatology and cosmology are conspicuous, and great importance is laid on the office and calling of the First Man.

With such things in common, it is not surprising that the mystery religions recognized and copied each other; 8 but human vanity also seems to have led each religion to claim for itself the right to be the one and only exclusive original, given to the first man. Indeed, in studying this material one can hardly avoid the impulse, as Reitzenstein puts it, “to view all religions as one great unity.” 9 “The isolating of separate religions as we present them in our textbooks … breaks down completely if we trace the history of a religious idea or concept. … What may originally have been Babylonian can become Iranian or even Persian, just as we may trace a Persian doctrine in the end back to China.” 10

But Eduard Meyer sees an exception to this in Christianity as a revealed religion. Of course, he was challenged; how was it possible for a religion resembling so many others to appear out of nothing? For proof of his point, Meyer produced the case of Joseph Smith and Mormonism. Knowing nothing whatever of the immense background material brought forth long after his time, Joseph Smith nonetheless put together the most complete and comprehensible exposition of those same abundant motifs in eminently reasonable form. 11

The Prophet’s nephew, Joseph F. Smith, was right.

The evidence that excited the debates of the early twentieth century was almost exclusively of a literary nature, so that the experts concluded that the cults themselves that came from Egypt, Greece, or the East confined their activities largely to the intellectual and literary exercises of individual practitioners and their followers. The Atonement for them was simply a scenario in which all the biblical terms became lofty abstractions.

Most scholars attributed this to Philo. The unio mystica of the cults and mysteries was a form of atonement, indeed, but only an abstract form. To the devotee impatient for the promised glory, eager for the great experience, waiting until the Resurrection and the Last Judgment was out of the question. And so they were not kept waiting. From the first, theatrical effects were provided to meet the demand—lights, incense, processions, chants, mystifying formulas, even narcotics provided the experience of another world. There was immediate seating, no waiting. The biblical terms do not apply here; being born again was a matter of a few days or hours. And then there was that irresistible appeal to the vanity of the average man, suddenly rid of all of his dull mediocrity to become an exalted spirit overnight, like the Marcosians, immune to the weaknesses and vices of the flesh, infinitely superior to all who had not received the enlightenment.

What is it in the religion revealed to Joseph Smith that is so different from the others that sound so much like it? The difference is the literal Atonement. The point that places the gospel of Jesus Christ worlds apart from the ideas of others is the concept of sin. Such a teaching as that of the Lord in 3 Nephi 11:32 (“And this is my doctrine, … that the Father commandeth all men, everywhere, to repent and believe in me” [3 Ne. 11:32]) is simply unthinkable to them. In the three degrees of Gnostic glory—the hylic, the psychic, and the pneumatic—those who had achieved the final degree were incapable of sin no matter what they did, just as a gold ring when plunged into filthy sewage in no wise becomes impure since it cannot possibly enter into reaction with such nasty stuff. 12
The Plan

Joseph Smith took the gospel of Christ back even before Abraham to Adam and beyond, revealing the Atonement as “the plan of redemption … prepared from the foundation of the world” (Alma 12:30)—that is, when it was approved at the Council in Heaven. This event is often mentioned in the earliest Christian and Jewish literature, 13 one of the most notable texts being the “Discourse on Abbaton” by Timothy, Archbishop of Alexandria (circa A.D. 380). 14 When the plan was voted on, according to this account and others, it was turned down. The earth herself complained, as in the Book of Moses and other Enoch literature, of the defilement it would bring upon her, knowing the kind of inhabitants to come (see Moses 7:48–49); and the heavenly host objected to a plan that would cause such a vast amount of sin and suffering.

The Only Begotten broke the deadlock by volunteering to go down and pay the price. This opened the way; the plan could go forward; and the sons of God and the morning stars all sang and shouted for joy (see Job 38:7) in a great creation hymn that has left an indelible mark in ancient literature and ritual. The Lord had made it all possible, leaving men their agency, and obeying the Father in all things. But Satan and his followers refused to accept the majority vote; for that, Satan was deprived of his glory in a reversal of the ritual endowment and was cast out of heaven, which was the reverse of at-one-ment. 15

Only in such a context does the Atonement, otherwise so baffling, take on its full significance. There is not a word among those translated as “atonement” which does not plainly indicate the return to a former state or condition; one rejoins the family, returns to the Father, becomes united, reconciled, embracing and sitting down happily with others after a sad separation. We want to get back, but to do that, we must resist the alternative: being taken into the community of “the prince of this world.” (John 12:31.)

Jacob, contemplating our possibilities here on earth both for dissolution and salvation, breaks out into an ecstatic cry of wonder and awe: “O the wisdom of God, his mercy and grace!” (2 Ne. 9:8.) For God has provided the resurrection as the first step to a physical at-one-ment, a resurrection which is indispensable to saving our spirits as well—they, too, must be atoned, for when Adam yielded to the adversary at the Fall (the common experience of all who become accountable), it was the spirit that committed the act of disobedience and independence, and the spirit could not undo that which was done. In the next verse Jacob gives a concise summary of the situation:

“And our spirits must have become like unto him [Satan], and we become devils, angels to a devil, to be shut out from the presence of our God [for no unclean thing can dwell in his presence, and being shut out is the utter reverse of at-one-ment], and to remain with the father of lies, in misery, like unto himself; yea, to that being who … transformeth himself nigh unto an angel of light, and stirreth up the children of men unto secret combinations of murder and all manner of secret works of darkness.” (2 Ne. 9:9.)

The part about the angel of light is important to let us know that Satan is with us as a regular member of the group; he does not show himself as a Halloween horror—that point is vital in establishing the reality of the scene.

What is the justification for Jacob’s alarming statement of total loss without atonement? For the answer, look around you! In the next verse Jacob describes our condition as Homer does that of his heroes—“all those noble spirits” caught like rats in a trap 16—doomed ahead of time, but for the Atonement: “O how great the goodness of our God, who prepareth a way for our escape [we are caught!] from the grasp of this awful monster; yea, that monster, death and hell, which I call the death of the body, and also the death of the spirit.” By this atonement, “the temporal, shall deliver up its dead”—that is, from the grave—but more important, “the spiritual death, shall deliver up its dead.” That is the death that really is hell—“which spiritual death is hell.” So now we have them both, body and spirit, brought together—another at-one-ment, “restored one to the other.” (2 Ne. 9:10–12.)

And how, pray, is this all done? Not by a syllogism or an argument or an allegory or even a ceremony; “it is by the power of the resurrection of the Holy One of Israel.” (2 Ne. 9:12.) Thus, another outburst from Jacob: “O how great [is] the plan of our God!” (2 Ne. 9:13; italics added.)

To know that everything is going according to plan is a vast relief. Yet the word plan is nowhere found in the English Bible! Why not? No doubt it was among the precious things removed. And what is left in its place? The muddled idea of predestination—St. Augustine’s praedestinatio ad damnationem and praedestinatio ad salvationem, the idea that everything that happens is the will of God, and there is nothing we can do about it, for the original sin makes mankind a massa perditionis, incapable of doing good.

For more than 1,500 years Christians have tried to mitigate or get rid of the bitter doctrine of predestination, but they have never been able to let it go, having nothing to put in its place. In particular, Augustine and his successors found the doctrine of infant damnation painful—no atonement for unbaptized babies stained by the original sin. But what could they do? The alternative to predestination is premortal existence, a firmly held tenet of the early church; 17 but Aristotle had declared that a false idea when he ruled out the existence of any other world than this or any other intelligent beings than ourselves.

Yet preachers today use the word plan freely—and no wonder, for what is of greater comfort than the assurance that what we are going through is all as it was planned, as it should be. What! This dismal routine? Planned this way? Yet the early Christian writers acknowledged that an essential part of life is that all things have their opposites—action and reaction are equal and opposite; and that is a good thing, for if we couldn’t be bad, we couldn’t really be good; and if nothing bad ever happened to us, we could never know how blessed we are. 18


1. Regarding the “scape-goat,” or “Azazel,” see Yoma 67b; cf. “Noah,” 10–11 in Louis Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews, 7 vols. (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1983), 5:170–71; Encyclopaedia Judaica, 3:1001–2.

2. For an entertaining discussion, read Mary Renault, The King Must Die (New York Pantheon, 1958).

3. The long catalogue of crimes in the famous 125th chapter of the Book of the Dead is rightly called “the Negative Confession,” because the speaker categorically and automatically always denies any wrongdoing whatever—no penitential psalms for him!

4. Siegfried Schott, “Die Reinigung Pharaohs” in Nachrichten der Akademie der Wissenschaften in Gottingen Philologisch-historische Klasse 3 (Jan. 1957):67.

5. In Journal of Discourses, 15:325–26.

6. Richard Reitzenstein, Studien zum antiken Synkretismus aus Iran und Griechenland (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1965), p. 23.

7. Plato, Republic, X.

8. Richard Reitzenstein, Die hellenistischen Mysterienreligionen (Stuttgart: Teubner, 1966), p. 28.

9. Reitzenstein, Studien zum antiken Synkretismus, p. 112.

10. Ibid., p. 65.

11. See Eduard Meyer, Ursprung und Geshichte der Mormonen (Halle: Max Niemeyer, 1912), pp. 1–2, 277–300.

12. Irenaeus, “Against Heresies,” Ante-Nicene Fathers, ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, 10 vols. (Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdman’s, 1950), 1:324.

13. Hugh W. Nibley, “The Expanding Gospel,” BYU Studies, 7 (1965): 3–27.

14. E. A. Wallis Budge, tr., “Discourse on Abbaton by Timothy, Archbishop of Alexandria,” in Coptic Martyrdoms, 6 vols. (London: British Museum, 1914), 4:225–49 (English translation on pp. 474–96).

15. Ibid., pp. 480–84.

16. Homer, Iliad, I, line 3: pollas d’iphthimous psychas Aidi proiapsen. See Homer, Iliad, with an English translation by A. T. Murray (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1971), pp. 2–3.

17. Nibley, “The Expanding Gospel,” pp. 11–12, 18–26.

18. Hugh W. Nibley, The World and the Prophets (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1987), pp. 183–85.

The Atonement of Jesus Christ, Part 3

The Atonement and the Law

The Nephites lived by the law of Moses, as implemented, for example, by the laws of King Benjamin and Mosiah. Yet they were constantly reminded that salvation does not come by the law of Moses:

“And, notwithstanding we believe in Christ, we keep the law of Moses, and look forward with steadfastness unto Christ, until the law shall be fulfilled.

“For, for this end was the law given; wherefore the law hath become dead unto us, and we are made alive in Christ because of our faith; yet we keep the law because of the commandments.” (2 Ne. 25:24–25.)

The law leads us back home; the at-one-ment takes place when we get there. In other words, the law is all preparation. Everything we do here is to prepare for the Atonement:

“Therefore this life became a probationary state; a time to prepare to meet God; a time to prepare for that endless state … which is after the resurrection of the dead.” (Alma 12:24.)

The early Christians also taught that, as this life is a preparation for the next, so in the premortal existence we had to prepare for this one. 1 To reach a stage in which the test would be meaningful—the plan itself being “prepared from the foundation of the world,” well ahead of time and well understood by those who accepted it there—angels were sent to remind men of that preparation. (See Alma 12:28–30; Alma 13:2–5.)
The Ordinances

Consider now how the rites of atonement were carried out under the law of Moses.

Before approaching the tabernacle or tent covering the ark, Aaron and his sons would be washed at the gate (see Ex. 29:4); then they would be clothed with the ephod, apron, and sash (Ex. 29:5), and a mitre, a flat cap or pad which may have been meant to support the weight of a crown, was placed on their heads (Ex. 29:6). The priests were also anointed with oil (Ex. 29:7) and consecrated or set apart (Ex. 29:9). Then they put their hands upon the head of a bullock (Ex. 29:10), transferring their guilt to the animal, which was slain. Its blood was put upon the horns of the altar (Ex. 29:12), which represented the four corners of the world. Two rams were then slain, and their blood was sprinkled on the altar as an atonement for all; then blood from the second ram was placed upon the right ear and right thumb of Aaron. (See Ex. 29:15–20.) The blood was also sprinkled over the garments of the priests (Ex. 29:21), who then ate parts of the ram with bread, Aaron and his sons “eat[ing] those things wherewith the atonement was made” (Ex. 29:22–24, 32–33). Each day for seven days, a bullock was offered for atonement. (Ex. 29:36–37.) Then the Lord received the high priest at the tent door, the veil (in Lev. 16:17–19, the high priest alone enters the tabernacle), and conversed with him (Ex. 29:42), accepting the sin offering, sanctifying the priests and people, and receiving them into his company to “dwell among the children of Israel, and [to] be their God” (Ex. 29:45).

This order is clearly reflected in D&C 101:23: “And prepare for the revelation which is to come, when the veil of the covering of my temple, in my tabernacle, which hideth the earth, shall be taken off, and all flesh shall see me together.” What an at-one-ment that will be!

As we read the full account, it becomes clear that there were a number of blood sacrifices of different animals and at different levels. There is perhaps much that escapes us. The newly discovered Temple Scroll is important on this score, describing some things that are quite different from what we find in the Old Testament. 2 Such freedom of action makes it clear that the ordinances were indeed but a type and a similitude of the great and last sacrifice of Christ, which was to come. Meanwhile, Aaron was to continue to make atonement once a year “with the blood of the sin offering of atonements,” while every individual was to continue to pay ransom for his own soul of one-half shekel, the atonement money going to “the service of the tabernacle.” (Ex. 30:10, 16).

As understood by the rabbis today, atonement can only be granted by God, but to have it, one must make a confession of guilt with an asham or guilt offering. With the loss of the temple and its sacrifices, teshuvah was interpreted as a “turning” or “returning” to the way of righteousness, requiring both remorse and reparation for one’s sinful ways. “Judaism maintains that human beings have the capacity to extricate themselves from the causal nexus and determine freely their conduct.” 3 Though teshuvah is achieved by one’s own effort, “divine mercy is necessary to heal or redeem man from the dire aftereffects of sin”; since sin “damages a person’s relationship with the Creator, divine grace is required to achieve full atonement.” But while prayer and suffering are required for atonement, Rabbi Yishma’el says that for the “desecration of the divine name” only “death completes atonement.” 4 The idea that one’s death is an atonement is widespread, but since death is usually anything but a willing sacrifice, that leaves much to be required.

Particularly interesting is the teaching of the rabbis that “the dead require atonement,” 5 and since the dead cannot repent, they must be helped by the living through charity, prayer, and Torah study. The prayer for the dead (the Qaddusha or Kaddish) goes directly back to the temple in the time of the Maccabees. 6 “Significantly, vicarious expiatory significance is attributed to the death of the high priest or that of the righteous.” 7 Here we have elements of the rites of atonement reflected in rabbinical teaching long after the temple and the priesthood had been taken away. It is interesting that the idea of “work for the dead” still lingers, if only on the level of good intentions. 8

And how was the Atonement understood by Christians? “There is no single New Testament doctrine of the Atonement,” writes William J. Wolf. “There is simply a collection of images and metaphors … from which subsequent tradition built its systematic doctrines and theories. … Tradition has tried to decide what parts of this picture should be taken literally and what parts metaphorically and has developed extended rationales.” 9 Wolf lists a number of ways in which the Atonement has been interpreted symbolically. There is, for example, the ransom metaphor, the buying free of a slave, etc. (see Mark 10:45); this is the commercial interpretation. There is the emphasis on forgiveness of sins. (See Matt. 26:28.) There is the image of the lamb, developed by John. (See John 1:29, 36; Rev. 13:8.) The main issue, Wolf says, is whether the Atonement is the completion of the Old Testament sacrifice or something independent and unique.

There are three main Christian interpretations today. First is the classical interpretation of the Greek Fathers, which integrates Incarnation, Atonement, and Resurrection, and uses the military context—the Christus Victor. Second is Anselm’s interpretation, in which “satisfaction” must be paid for offense to God’s honor, because a son or subject, by the medieval code of fealty and honor, must vindicate any offense to his lord. 10 The Roman catechism defines sin as “any damage done to the glory of God”; and Christ’s death, being undeserved, has a superfluous virtue to cover all sins. Third is the Reformation theory of Calvin that Christ was a substitute who endured God’s punishment for man or for the elect.

H. Grotius and Jonathan Edwards propounded the rectorial or governmental theory of Christ’s death having a deterrent effect on sinners in the public interest. More recently, emphasis has been put on the “moral-influence theories,” according to which we “respond to Jesus’ message and example of love” in our minds and hearts. 11 This is Abelard’s “love answers love’s appeal,” which he intensifies by making the crucifixion an object of such pity as to stir all beholders to reform. 12 Albrecht Ritschl argues that Christ’s example inspires “ethical response in history.” 13 And so it goes. Vatican II and the Ecumenical Movement have turned back to the patristic writers and Anselm, restoring “sacrificial language,” the “Christus Victor,” and “moral-influence,” with an inclination toward the theatrical, now moving toward “a reformation of sacrificial theory, which [is] fortified by the use of liturgy and … comparative history of religions.” 14
True Discipleship

In Latter-day Saint doctrine, the Atonement of Christ is far from being a merely theological, philosophical, or psychological exercise. At-one-ment fulfills the measure of man’s creation and is the culmination of the plan of salvation. As such, it requires more than our casual attention as we live out our days on earth. No detached intellectualism; no frenzied quick-fixes; no “cheap grace,” as Bonhoffer put it. “Cheap grace is grace without discipleship. … Costly grace is … the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him. … It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.” 15

The “only true life” requires a lifetime of obedience (see Matt. 7:21) and cleanliness before God (see 3 Ne. 27:19). It is specifically a matter of covenants, to which one must be true and faithful before overcoming this world and finding at-one-ment in the world to come. (See Rev. 3:21.)
Washed in the Blood

There is one expression connected with the ceremonies that seem strangely paradoxical. It is having one’s garments washed white with the blood of the Lamb. Washed white with blood? The Book of Mormon clarifies the apparent contradiction. Alma tells us that “there can no man be saved except his garments are washed white; yea, his garments must be purified until they are cleansed from all stain, through the blood of him of whom it has been spoken by our fathers, who should come to redeem his people from their sins.

“And now I ask of you, my brethren, how will any of you feel, if ye shall stand before the bar of God, having your garments stained with blood and all manner of filthiness? Behold, what will these things testify against you?

“Behold will they not testify that ye are murderers, … guilty of all manner of wickedness?” (Alma 5:21–23.)

Being guilty of the blood and sins of your generation, you may not “have a place to sit down in the kingdom of God, with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob, and also all the holy prophets, whose garments are cleansed and are spotless, pure and white.” (Alma 5:24.) This is nothing less than the yeshivah, literally “sitting down” in the presence of God. 16

Note that there are two kinds of blood-stained garments here—the one showing the blood and sins of this world, the other attesting (for Alma expressly states that “these things testify”) that Aaron and his sons have completed the sacrifice of the Lamb and thus cleansed the people of their defilements, and their garments are white. The blood that washes garments clean is not the blood that defiles them, just as the serpent that healed the people in the wilderness was not the serpent that killed. (See Num. 21:9.)

It is on that principle of paradoxical opposites that Satan’s participation in our lives is to be explained. If we can be “encircled about eternally in the arms of [God’s] love” (2 Ne. 1:15), we can also be “encircled about by the bands of death, and the chains of hell, and an everlasting destruction” (Alma 5:7); and if we can be perfectly united in the at-one-ment, we can also be “cast out” (Alma 5:25), separated and split off forever—our names “blotted out, that the names of the wicked … shall not be mingled with the names of my people” (Alma 5:57).

If Satan claims you as his, there is indeed a horrible oneness; for he, too, can embrace you to get power over you: “[Do] not choose eternal death, according to the will of the flesh and the evil which is therein, which giveth the spirit of the devil power to captivate, to bring you down to hell, that he may reign over you in his own kingdom.” (2 Ne. 2:29; cf. 2 Ne. 28:19; Alma 8:9.) He would hold you in his strong embrace, having a great hold over you. (See Alma 10:25; Alma 12:17; Alma 27:12; Hel. 16:23.)

Joseph Smith felt that power, and it was not an imaginary power at all. It was a very real power many have felt since. (See JS—H 1:15–16.) He does indeed “get possession” of you (3 Ne. 2:2), “for Satan desireth to have you” (3 Ne. 18:18), just as the Lord does. While on the one hand, God “inviteth and enticeth to do good” and to be one with him, so on the other hand Satan “inviteth and enticeth to sin.” (Moro. 7:12–13.)

Why don’t we just get rid of Satan? Augustine lamented as an awful tragedy the fact that God had not made us incapable of sinning—“O miseria necessitas, non posse non peccandi.” But as Irenaeus pointed out much earlier, without some kind of test, we could not prove ourselves good or bad, never being obliged to choose between the two. 17 If a probation on earth is to have meaning, then “it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things.” (2 Ne. 11, 15.) So, says Lehi, we must take a turn at resisting various enticements. (See 2 Ne. 2:16, 21.) Lehi knew the old literature, which declared “that an angel … had fallen from heaven; wherefore, he became a devil, having sought that which was evil before God,” and then proceeded to administer temptation, deception, and misery to the human race. (2 Ne. 2:17–18.)

Is there any evidence for that? Well, why is the world full of misery? Who wants it? And yet someone seems to be pushing it on us all the time. His system works beautifully, and so he rules to this day on this earth. (See 1 Ne. 13:29; John 12:31; John 14:30.) But it is our privilege to rise above his viciousness and our own weakness by repentance. One of the most heartening and encouraging verses in the Book of Mormon explains that the way is wide open, and God “commandeth all men, everywhere, to repent” (3 Ne. 11:32)—all men all the time. In fact, our lives have been prolonged for the specific purpose of giving us more golden opportunities to repent: “The days of the children of men were prolonged, according to the will of God, that they might repent while in the flesh.” All live in “a state of probation, and their time was lengthened” to give them every possible chance, for otherwise “they were lost.” (2 Ne. 2:21.) So “all men must repent” and keep repenting as long as they live, for who would throw away that generous extension?

Lehi goes on to tell us that Adam interrupted an eternal existence to get himself into the predicament that we are in. (See 2 Ne. 2:22.) For this the Christians execrate his name, for he “brought death into the world and all our woes.” But he brought something much better than that; verse 25 of 2 Nephi 2 is one of the best-known statements in the Book of Mormon: “Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.” [2 Ne. 2:25] Humans, “redeemed from the fall … have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, … free according to the flesh; … free to choose liberty and eternal life, … or to choose captivity and [eternal] death” in the power of one who “seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.” (2 Ne. 2:26–27.) He has that “power to captivate” because we give it to him. (See 2 Ne. 2:29.)

The purpose of the plan, it should be clear by now, is to get us all involved. We are “invited and enticed” from both sides.

But how can we withstand Satan’s skillful ploys of temptation? King Benjamin tells us how to go about it, warning us beforehand that there is no other salvation to look for and no other conditions for achieving it. (See Mosiah 4:8.) First, “believe in God; believe that he is, and that he created all things.” This does not require suspension of judgment, since honesty alone obliges us to “believe that man doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend.” (Mosiah 4:9.) And then, “Always retain in remembrance, the greatness of God, and your own nothingness, and his goodness and long-suffering towards you, unworthy creatures, and humble yourselves even in the depths of humility, calling on the name of the Lord daily.” (Mosiah 4:11.)

Is that asking too much? On the contrary, says Benjamin, never was there such a bargain, for “if ye do this ye shall always rejoice.” (Mosiah 4:12.)

What are we to do? Lehi explains that if we approach the Lord with “a broken heart and contrite spirit,” we have a case; “and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered.” (2 Ne. 2:7.) This puts an end to legalism and litigation. A broken heart and a contrite spirit cannot be faked or even calmly discussed, and that is a prime point: “How great the importance to make these things known unto the inhabitants of the earth.” (2 Ne. 2:8.) When all men stand in God’s presence to be judged, punishment will be meted out in terms of legal penalties—the law by which we were bound, the preliminary trials and tests to get us to our final hearing. But that is not what the Judgment is about. What we are expecting in this final judgment is that “happiness which is affixed” to the law and which is the final purpose or end “of the atonement.” (2 Ne. 2:10.)

So we also have our part in achieving in the Atonement. How is it all done? The explanation of predestinationism, Neoplatonism, and Islam is simply that God does it all because he can, which leaves us as completely irresponsible nonentities. That is not the way it really is, and it is not what we want—and it is not what God wants. He wants to be one with us, and we want to be one with the Father, which obviously is completely beyond our present capacity; it is only the Son who can help us: then we need to “look to the great Mediator, and hearken unto his great commandments”—he will tell us what to do, for he is anxious to help us. “Be faithful unto his words, and choose eternal life, according to the will of his Holy Spirit.” (2 Ne. 2:28.) The Holy Ghost, that other Mediator, who comes to take over when the Lord is absent, seconds him in all things.

“Redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah,” Lehi tells his son, “for he is full of grace and truth.” (2 Ne. 2:6.) That says everything: to be full of grace is everything good that you can possibly conceive of; it is a combination of love, charity, and joy—charis, gratia, and “cheer.” It is everything to be cheerful about and grateful for, and it is boundless love without a shadow of mental reservation, self-interest, or ulterior motive—in short, of anything false or untrue; it is all real, for he is full of grace and truth.


1. Discussed in Hugh W. Nibley, “The Expanding Gospel,” BYU Studies, 7(1965):3–27.

2. Jacob Milgram, “The Temple Scroll,” Biblical Archaeologist 41 (Sept. 1978):105–20; cf. Yigael Yadin, The Temple Scroll (New York: Random House, 1985).

3. Walter S. Wurzburger, “Atonement: Jewish Concepts,” in The Encyclopedia of Religion, ed. Mircea Eliade, 16 vols. (New York: Macmillan, 1987), 1:494.

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.

6. 2 Maccabees 12:45–46.

7. Wurzburger, 1:494. Also regarding kaddish, see David De Sola Pool, “Kaddish,” in The Universal Jewish Encyclopedia, ed. Isaac Landman, 10 vols. (New York: Universal Jewish Encyclopedia, 1941), 6:273–75.

8. Hugh W. Nibley, “The Idea of the Temple in History,” Millennial Star, August 1958, pp. 228–37, 247–49; also published as “What Is a Temple,” in The Temple in Antiquity: Ancient Records and Modern Perspectives (Provo: Religious Studies Center, 1984), pp. 20–33.

9. William J. Wolf, “Atonement: Christian Concepts,” in The Encyclopedia of Religion 1:496.

10. Regarding “Cur Deus Homo [circa 1097],” see Anselm of Canterbury, Why God Became Man and the Virgin Conception and Original Sin, trans. Joseph M. Colleran (Albany, N.Y.: Magi, 1969), p. 198.

11. Wolf, 1:498.

12. Ibid.

13. Ibid.

14. Ibid.

15. Dietrich Bonhoffer, The Cost of Discipleship (New York: Macmillan, 1959), p. 47.

16. Marcus Jastrow, A Dictionary of the Targumim, The Talmud Babli and Yerushalmi, and the Midrashic Literature, 2 vols. (New York: Pardes, 1950), 1:600, 603.

17. Hugh W. Nibley, The World and the Prophets, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1987, pp. 182–85.

The Atonement of Jesus Christ, Part 4

Choosing At-one-ment

If we would have God “apply the atoning blood of Christ” (Mosiah 4:2) to our case, we can also reject it. We can take advantage of it, or we can refuse it. The Atonement is either dead to us or in full effect. It is the supreme sacrifice made for us, and to receive it, we must live up to every promise and covenant related to it—the Day of Atonement was the day of covenants, and the place was the temple.

We cannot keep ourselves chaste in a casual and convenient way, nor can we accept chastity as St. Augustine did, as to be operative at some future time—“God give me chastity and continency, only not yet.” 1 We cannot enjoy optional obedience to the laws of God, or place our own limits on the law of sacrifice, or mitigate the charges of righteous conduct connected with living the gospel. We cannot be willing to sacrifice only that which is convenient to part with, and then expect a reward. The Atonement is everything; it is not to be had “on the cheap.” God is not mocked in these things; we do not make promises and covenants with mental reservations. Unless we keep our covenants, Satan has power over us—a condition we can easily recognize by the mist of fraud and deception that has enveloped our whole society.
The Real Test

What Benjamin was setting forth in his address to the Nephite nation was the only way by which we can have a claim on the atoning blood of Jesus Christ: “There is none other salvation … neither are there any conditions” other than these. (Mosiah 4:8.) Since “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son” (John 3:16), what must we do about it? Nothing short of a supreme sacrifice was demanded of Abraham, whom we are commanded to take as a model if we would have the promises of Abraham. (See D&C 101:4–5.)

Of course, we cannot begin to comprehend the greatness of the supreme sacrifice, but we can make what for us is the supreme sacrifice, as Abraham did when he firmly intended to sacrifice the life of his son in obedience to God’s command. (See Heb. 11:17.) Fortunately, it was not necessary for Abraham or Isaac to go so far. God substituted a ram in Isaac’s place, which in the rites of atonement became forever afterward representative of sacrifice of God’s Only Begotten Son.

Likewise, the Atonement makes all such sacrifice unnecessary; but as with Abraham, the “real intent,” to use the Book of Mormon expression (see Moro. 7:6), must be there: “And [God] said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him; for now I know that thou fearest God [Elohim], seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.” (Gen. 22:12.)

Thus, no “blood atonement” is required of us, since the sometimes necessary sacrifice of our lives has nothing to do with atonement of our sins. Only one infinite and eternal sacrifice could pay for sin, but God may still expect us to sacrifice our lives if the need should arise as we struggle to build up the kingdom of God on earth.

The point of all this is that atonement requires of the beneficiary nothing less than willingness to part with his most precious possession.

Joined with the requirement of sacrifice is the requirement of consecration, which has no limiting “if necessary” clause; we agree to it unconditionally here and now. It represents our contribution to our salvation.

The same rule applied in Israel. Every seventh year there was a release of debts, so that there should be no poor among them. “Therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land.” (Deut. 15:11.) Moreover, every fiftieth year, on the Day of Atonement, a great assembly of the entire nation was held, “an holy convocation … [to] afflict your souls” (Lev. 23:27), for the purpose of bringing a special “sin offering of atonement” (Num. 29:11). The trumpet of the Jubilee was sounded, “proclaiming liberty to all the inhabitants” and announcing the Jubilee year when all debts were cancelled and no profits were taken. (Lev. 25:8–10, 14–17.)

This is an indispensable step to achieving atonement for the people, since it is temporal inequality that keeps the Saints from being one. (See D&C 49:20.) This is made clear in the Lord’s prayer. True atonement is the object: “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.” (Matt. 6:10.) This is expressed as a wish, and it is followed by two specific requests—the only things that we ask for outright in the prayer. Strangely enough, they are of a strictly temporal, bread-and-butter nature—to have our daily bread given to us (no talk of earning it, as King Benjamin says in Mosiah 2:21), and to do away with all debts.

The word discretely rendered trespasses in the King James Version is strictly a business term (opheilenmata) as it is correctly rendered in the Book of Mormon. The meaning is perfectly clear: If the kingdom of heaven is to be established on earth, the two great obstacles to it—the whips that we hold over each other (i.e., the need for food, no matter what, and the devices by which men put each other under the burden of debt)—must be eliminated, along with the motivation, the temptation, that allows those obstacles to exist. 2

It is a depressing thought that the law of consecration should be the hardest sacrifice for us to make, instead of the easiest. But this is made perfectly clear to us in the story of the rich young man who zealously kept all the commandments but was stopped cold by that one: “But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions,” and Jesus sorrowfully let him go—there was no deal, no mitigation of the terms. (Matt. 19:22—23.) The Lord has said, “If ye are not one ye are not mine” (D&C 38:27; italics added), and we cannot be one in spiritual things unless we are one in temporal things (see D&C 70:14).

Atonement is both individual and collective. That is what Zion is—the people must be “of one heart and one mind” (Moses 7:18), not only one with each other, but one with the Lord. So in 3 Nephi 11, after the Lord had contact with every member of the multitude personally, “one by one” (3 Ne. 11:15), “when they had all gone forth and had witnessed for themselves, they did cry out with one accord, saying: Hosannah! Blessed be the name of the Most High God! And they did fall down at the feet of Jesus, and did worship him” (3 Ne. 11:16–17). That was a true at-one-ment.

The law of consecration is expressly designed for the establishment of Zion, where “they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.” (Moses 7:18.) For that, we must consecrate everything we have to the whole; and yet we lose nothing, for we are all one. To consecrate means to set apart, sanctify, and relinquish our own personal interest in the manner designated in the book of Doctrine and Covenants. It is the final, decisive law and covenant by which we formally accept the Atonement and merit a share in it.

It is at the climax of his great discourse on the Atonement that Jacob cries out, “But wo unto the rich, who are rich as to the things of the world. For because they are rich they despise the poor.” This is a very important statement, setting down as a general principle that the rich as a matter of course despise the poor, for “their hearts are upon their treasures; wherefore, their treasure is their god. And behold, their treasure shall perish with them also.” (2 Ne. 9:30.)

Why does Jacob make this number one in his explicit list of offenses against God? Because it is the number-one device among the enticings of “that cunning one” (2 Ne. 9:39), who knows that riches are his most effective weapon in leading men astray. You must choose between being at one with God or with mammon; you cannot be one with both (see Matt. 6:24); the one promises everything in this world for money, the other a place in the kingdom after you have “endured the crosses of the world, and despised the shame of it,” for only so can you “inherit the kingdom of God, which was prepared for them from the foundation of the world,” where your “joy shall be full forever” (2 Ne. 9:18).

Need we point out that the main reason for having money is precisely to avoid “the crosses of the world, and … the shame of it?” The objection to the law of consecration is that it is hard to keep. We want eternal life in the presence of God and the angels, but we think that consecration is too high a price to pay! God has commanded, and we have accepted, but then we have added a proviso: “We will gladly observe and keep the law of consecration as soon as conditions make it less trying and more convenient for us to do so.” And we expect atonement for that? We are clearly told in the Book of Mormon that when God commands us to do something, no matter how hard, he will open the way for us if we put our hearts into it: “For I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.” (1 Ne. 3:7.) Nephi had an excellent excuse for postponing his “mission impossible” to Jerusalem for the plates, but that was just the point of his assignment—he was being tested, as we are.

The key to keeping this commandment is, of course, faith, and faith is never without hope (anticipating and envisioning the results), and neither of these is of the slightest avail without charity. (See Moro. 7:41–44.) So we pray with energy for charity, which seeks not its own self-interest. (See 1 Cor. 13:4–5.) For “this love which [God has] for the children of men is charity”; without it, there is no “place … prepared in the mansions of [the] Father” (Ether 12:34, 37)—that is to say, there is no atonement.

Charity alone should answer all our pious arguments for putting the law of consecration on hold: “Ye have procrastinated the day of your salvation until it is everlastingly too late, … for ye have sought all the days of your lives for that which ye could not obtain.” (Hel. 13:38.) Even lots of money cannot guarantee security.
But Is It Real?

Alma took up the scriptures “to explain things beyond.” (Alma 12:1.) Having come this far, I ask myself with Alma, “O then, is not this real?” (Alma 32:35). And I find the answer in Jacob, who faces the issue fairly and squarely by placing the two conflicting views of reality side by side. First he speaks of prophecy: “For the Spirit speaketh the truth and lieth not. Wherefore, it speaketh of things as they really are, and of things as they really will be; wherefore, these things are manifested unto us plainly, for the salvation of our souls.” (Jacob 4:13.) But most people will have none of this. “They despised the words of plainness,” refusing to take the word literally. They are always missing the point “by looking beyond the mark.” They want to explore “many things which they cannot understand,” and God permits them to go their way, “that they may stumble” (Jacob 4:14), which they are bound to do if they insist on finding ultimate reality in learned debate or even in the laboratory.

The first argument in favor of the reality that Jacob insists on is that it gives us a correct and incisive view of our present world. This is not a rigmarole or primitive mumbo jumbo. It gets down to the basic facts of life and begins the argument on a solid premise. You do not have to be an inspired prophet to know that man’s state is fraught with danger, that life is more than we can handle, and death is more than we can face. Nothing is more real in this life than the constant awareness that things could be better than they are. The Atonement does not take full effect in this world at all, and hereafter it will take effect completely only when this world is made part of the celestial order. The unreality is all on this side of the great and awful gulf. If there is anything manifestly evident about the doings in the great and spacious building (see 1 Ne. 11:36), it is the hollow laughter and silly pretensions of the people in it. Today the sense of unreality is beginning to haunt us all—life has become a TV spectacular to which we are beginning to adapt our own behavior. In this age of theatromania, where everything is a contrived spectacle, our lives reflect an endless procession of futility. 3

For the pre-neo-Darwinist Korihor, the Atonement was nothing but wishful thinking, “the effect of a frenzied mind.” (Alma 30:16.) But as Lord Raglan has shown at length, such a doctrine is the last thing in the world that a seeker for an easy and blissfully happy land would invent. 4 The rigorous terms of the Atonement, which demands the active participation of all its beneficiaries and passes the bitter cup of sacrifice to all of them, has made it unpopular to the point of total rejection by the general public—hardly a product of wishful thinking or human invention!

But is that other world—the world of at-one-ment with God—any more real? It is the standard by which we judge this one. It is hard to argue with the voices that keep telling us that we are strangers here, that there must be some better place. Whence this nostalgia, the “intimations of immortality” of which Wordsworth spoke, 5 the yearning for the good, true, and beautiful, the ideal which we recognize in Plato’s anamnesis? It is so vivid and compelling that we must actually fight to suppress it.

Many birds and animals have a powerful and mysterious homing instinct that drives them for thousands of miles. This is real. When we feel overpowering nostalgia, can it be ignored as utterly meaningless? Our growing revulsion to this mad world is matched by a growing yearning for another that can become very real for us. We can recognize the pieces of a more complete and perfect order surviving in the wreckage around us. From all of this, we can easily reconstruct or imagine a more perfect antetype. We would not come down here unless something was to be done; the work is not finished, the story is not over. There is something very powerful at work beyond our world and our ken.
How Much Pain?

Another question that the Atonement raises, which has puzzled me for years, is that to achieve the Atonement, the Lord “suffereth the pains of all men, yea, … of every living creature … who belong to the family of Adam.” (2 Ne. 9:21; see also D&C 18:11.)

There are two questions here. The first is, How is such suffering possible or conceivable? We are told that, as a mortal, Christ suffered “temptations, and pain of body, hunger, thirst, and fatigue, even more than man can suffer, except it be unto death.” (Mosiah 3:7; see also Alma 7:11.)

Here death seems to place a limit on suffering; but Christ’s suffering was more than physical pain, “for behold, blood cometh from every pore, so great shall be his anguish for the wickedness and abominations of his people.” (Mosiah 3:7; see D&C 19:18.) This, rather than physical pain, was the cause of the suffering of which we cannot conceive but which is perfectly believable. Many thousands suffered crucifixion under Roman law, but it was in the stillness of the garden that the Lord bled at every pore in anguish over our sins.

But how could a few hours in Gethsemane and on the cross be effective through infinite time? Even in our limited sphere of action, one can never know how one’s actions affect the lives of others for good or ill.

The fifth-century rhetorician Isocrates once observed that if every man in Greece could lift twice as much, run twice as fast, jump twice as far, etc., the world would be little better off—animals and machinery do the fast and heavy work anyway. “But if just one man could think properly all mankind willing to share his ideas would benefit.” 6 Here is a kind of action that has infinite leverage, and what gives it that leverage is faith.
Vicarious Suffering?

And this raises the second question: How is it possible that one person should suffer for another? How can anyone else suffer pain for me? Since we are speaking of mental anguish, we can safely say that it happens all the time.

The possibility of suffering for another becomes real by the principle of substitution, which is a central doctrine of the Atonement. The sacrifice itself is vicarious; as a ram was a vicarious sacrifice for Isaac, so Isaac himself was to be sacrificed for others—by his actions he expressed his own willingness to be offered up, and that was all God asked of him. But blood still had to be shed, hence the substitute. (So also in that other arrested sacrifice—circumcision, with its real but token shedding of blood.) The blood of the bullock, ram, or lamb was considered to be the blood of the officiator who laid his hands upon its head. The whole economy of the temple balances justice, which demands fulfillment of the law, against the mercy which spares the life of the individual. Is this just a game of make-believe, then? Far from it; real intent is required of all who would profit by the great atoning sacrifice.

What makes the vicarious sacrifice valid? It is the intent of the ransomed: “For now I know. …” (Gen. 22:12.) As the law of sacrifice teaches, those of whom the sacrifice is required may “if necessary” actually have to go through with it, so that the substitute sacrifice is entirely acceptable if it is made in good faith. That is why the law of consecration is so important. It is, before all, a test of our good faith. A sincere sacrifice is required of all. 7
The Silent Treatment

And now we have another question. What good is a teaching or a teacher that nobody accepts or listens to? What a strange phenomenon! Why does it seem that the most important principle of our existence is almost totally ignored? Moses and the prophets complained that Israel did not heed it; John the Baptist and the Savior were voices in the wilderness; people only accepted the doctrine for three generations in Book of Mormon times; the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price are both addressed to reluctant audiences. And even when the message was accepted in each dispensation, righteousness was soon overtaken by self-righteousness.

It is as if someone had died and left us a bequest in which we have no interest, since accepting it would entail a change in our life-style. Benjamin invites us to awaken to “a sense of your nothingness, and your worthless and fallen state” and to “always retain in remembrance, the greatness of God, and your own nothingness, and his goodness and long-suffering towards you, unworthy creatures.” (Mosiah 4:5, 11.) But who wants to accept the Atonement on such terms? So cool has been the reception of this message that through the centuries, while heated controversy and debate have raged over evolution, atheism, the sacraments, the Trinity, authority, predestination, faith and works, etc., there has been virtually no argument or discussion at all about the meaning of the Atonement. Why were there no debates or pronouncements in the synods? People either do not care enough or do not know enough even to argue about it.
Give Us Smooth Things!

In matters of atonement, the scriptures engage us in a very serious, thoughtful, and lifelong project; but the minimal involvement which makes for popular religion plainly shows that something has been removed which has caused the Gentiles to stumble. It was known from the beginning that “the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehend[eth] it not.” (John 1:5.) “He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not.” (John 1:10–11.)

So why bother with this hopelessly unpopular doctrine? Because there are always some who do accept it: “But as many as received him, to them he gave the power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12–13.)

That makes them the children of God before they lived in the flesh, and what more consummate at-one-ment than to resume their status as sons of God? For their sake, it was all worth it.

It was the same in Old Testament times. “The house of Israel,” as Jacob reminds us, “are a stiffnecked and a gainsaying people; but as many as will not harden their hearts shall be saved in the kingdom of God.” (Jacob 6:4.) As for the others, they must be given the benefit of the doubt in the days of their probation: “If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father.” (John 15:24.)
The Power Behind It

In its sweep and scope, the Atonement takes on the aspect of one of the grand constants in nature—omnipresent, unalterable, such as gravity or the speed of light. Just as for them, it is always there, easily forgotten, hard to explain, and hard to believe in without an explanation. But we are constantly exposed to its effects, whether we are aware of them or not, and to ignore it can be fatal. It is waiting at our disposal to draw us on. When the multitude were overwhelmed by King Benjamin’s speech, “and they had viewed themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth … they all cried aloud with one voice, saying: O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, … for we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who created heaven and earth, and all things; who shall come down among the children of men.” (Mosiah 4:2; italics added.) The blessing is there waiting all the time, needing only to be applied when the people are ready for it.

In discoursing on the nature of the Atonement, the Book of Mormon writers constantly refer to power. “My soul delighteth in the covenants of the Lord … in his grace, and in his justice, and power, and mercy in the great and eternal plan of deliverance from death.” (2 Ne. 11:5; italics added; see also 2 Ne. 9:12, 25.)

That would seem to be the final word by way of explaining things. The word power occurs no less than 365 times in the Book of Mormon and 276 times in the Bible. The power of the devil is also referred to, but that is only the power we give him when we “choose eternal death, according to the will of the flesh and the evil which is therein, which giveth the spirit of the devil power to captivate, to bring you down to hell, that he may reign over you in his own kingdom.” (2 Ne. 2:29.)

But whence comes this power? Does it begin with love, faith, hope, or charity? Yes, for they all work together:

“The Lord God prepareth the way that the residue of men may have faith in Christ, that the Holy Ghost may have place in their hearts, according to the power thereof; and after this manner bringeth to pass the Father, the covenants which he hath made unto the children of men.” (Moro. 7:32; see also Moro. 37–38.)

Moroni says that the power source is faith: “By faith, they did lay hold upon every good thing; [for as] Christ hath said: If ye will have faith in me ye shall have power to do whatsoever thing is expedient in me.” (Moro. 7:25, 33.)

And what greater thing could we possibly “lay hold upon” than the eternal life that all the prophets have sought? It is the faith and the power that Moroni spoke of that are able to bring one into the embrace of the Lord, to be “encircled about eternally in the arms of his love” (2 Ne. 1:15) and to return and “have a place” in the presence of the Father (see Alma 5:24). It is at this point that the atonement of Christ is operative in one’s life. This is the true at-one-ment. As to the ordinances on earth—and in the spirit of Article of Faith 8 [A of F 1:8] (“We believe the Bible … as far as it is translated correctly”), a few words in the text deserve new treatment—the Lord was clear in his prayer just prior to his suffering in Gethsemane: “While I was with them in the world, I [tested] them in thy name [by which thou didst endow me]; those that thou gavest me [have] kept [the secret], and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled.” (John 17:12.) “I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of [do not come out of] the world, even as I am not of the world.” (John 17:14.) “And the glory which thou gavest me I have given to them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me” (John 17:22–23), that we may be endowed (initiated, completed) to make one, “so have I also sent them into the world” (John 17:18).

But if the disciple is to be sent into the world, he is not sent without help and hope: “I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you. … If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. … These things have I spoken unto you, being yet present with you. … Ye have heard how I said unto you, I go away, and come again unto you. If ye loved me, ye would rejoice [they are sorrowing because they do not understand it], because I said, I go unto the Father: for my Father is greater than I. … Hereafter I will not talk much with you: for the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me.” (John 14:18, 23, 25, 28, 30.) Clearly, the Atonement begins in this world but is completed in the other world.

There are more than a dozen enlightening discourses on the Atonement in the Book of Mormon. 8 None is more remarkable than the impressive epitome contained in a single verse, the conclusion of Enos’s movingly personal story:

“And I soon go to the place of my rest, which is with my Redeemer; for I know that in him I shall rest. And I rejoice in the day when my mortal shall put on immortality, and shall stand before him; then shall I see his face with pleasure, and he will say unto me: Come unto me, ye blessed, there is a place prepared for you in the mansions of my Father. Amen.” (Enos 1:27.)


1. Augustine, Confessions, 8:17.

2. This last interpretation is fully expounded by Frederic H. Chase, The Lord’s Prayer in the Early Church, (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1891), pp. 71–167.

3. Regarding theatromania, see Hugh W. Nibley, “Victoriosa Loquacitas: The Rise of Rhetoric and the Decline of Everything Else,” Western Speech 20/2 (Spring 1956):57–82; “Sparsiones,” Classical Journal 40/9 (June 1945):515–43; “The Roman Games as a Survival of an Archaic Year-cult,” Ph.D. diss., Univ. of California at Berkeley, 1939.

4. Lord Raglan, The Origins of Religion (London: Wattson, 1949), p. 25.

5. William Wordsworth, “Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood,” Poetical Works of Wordsworth (London: Frederick Warne, 1854), p. 315.

6. See George Norlin, trans., Isocrates, 3 vols. (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1968), 1:120–21.

7. Joseph Smith, Lectures on Faith, comp. N. B. Lundwall (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, n.d.), p. 58: “A religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation.”

8. For example, 2 Ne. 2 and 2 Ne. 9; Jacob 4; Mosiah 3, Mosiah 4, and Mosiah 12–16; Alma 5, Alma 7, Alma 34, and Alma 42; 3 Ne. 11:9–17; Ether 12; Moro. 7; and others.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

longest post ever. a good read though.